Steven Bernstein: Proud Member of the Pre-Computer Absorption Generation
AAJ: The new record is Sexotica. One great thing about Sex Mob is that the same record has never been made twice. Like your previous CD, Dime Grind Palace (Ropeadope/Atlantic, 2003), these are original tunes. But there are two aspects kind of interacting on this one. First, the record is a sort of tribute to Martin Denny, the 1950s musician who made best-selling, faux-tropical instrumental albums like Exotica. Second, the record is marked by its after-the-fact manipulation of sound from the Good and Evil production teamthe tracks are chopped up, filtered, altered, distorted and sped up. First of all, why Martin Denny? Second, why the post-production work from Good and Evil?
SB: Well, Good and Evil are friends of our who run a studio. We made a couple of our early records there, and before the very first Sex Mob record came out, there was a single"Sign o' the Times, the Prince song, with a remix by Good and Evil. It was one of their first jobs, like ten years ago. So we've all known each other for a long time. One of the guys is this guitarist; we played in the Lounge Lizards together before he went more into producing. So I'd gone by their place to pick up some tapes and hang outthey'd said, "Look, we're getting rid of all our tapes, so anyone who has tapes here should come get them. So I came by, and they said, "Hey man, we want you to hear what we're doing. We've been making these records for Thirsty Ear, and we think it would be really cool to do one with Sex Mob. So they played me their records and it sounded really cool. They played me some of their more commercial dance musicthey're really into all this bhangra stuff. They thought it would be really cool to do this kind of bhangra/Sex Mob record. They said, "On the way home, stop by this little Indian cabbie standyou can get all these bhangra records for three bucks each. So I bought some, listened to them on the way home, and said, "Cool. Let's do it.
So we set up a meeting with Peter Gordon, the guy at Thirsty Ear. And I don't think this guy has ever heard Sex Mob. He knows who we are, but I know he's never seen us live. But he knew we were a band that had toured, and won awards, and made records, and blah-blah-blah, and he's excited, because it's good for his label. Now Peter is really into the idea of a concept. All his records are concept records. That's his whole thing, and he's very upfront about it. So he says, "You know what? I don't like this concept. I can't sell it. Bhangrait doesn't make any sense to me. So I said, "Okay, and we're just sitting around talking, throwing ideas back and forth, and he says, "Martin Denny.
Now that's very interesting, because I had never heard of Martin Denny fifteen years ago, and [legendary producer] Hal Willner, who was my first supporter, who produced the first Spanish Fly record, said to me, "I love Spanish Fly; it really reminds me of Martin Denny. I said, "Yeah, okay, great. Hal would always mention things, and I had no idea what he was talking about, so I always had a pencil when I talked with him, and I would write things down. So I go and get this Martin Denny stuff and listen to it, and I like it. It's kind of cool, I like the vibe, and I know what he means; it's a kind of warm sound, and in Spanish Fly we used to a lot of these kinds of rhythms with our instruments, stuff like that. So, being a collector, I eventually ended up with every Martin Denny record.
So Peter says, "Martin Denny, and I just look at him and say, "Sexotica. Now we have to make the record, because we've got the title! Sexotica. So now the guys in my band are so busy that we couldn't find a weekend to do it for nine months. And Peter is so used to jazz musicians who need the thousand dollars they're going to make. I don't even think I've paid Tony or Kenny yetthey're so busy, they're out making tons with all the shit they do. So I think Peter was shocked.
SB: Yeah. He thought we'd just jump in and do the record. So he said, "When are you going to do the record? I said, "Listen, man, we're all busy making money. I can't go and make this little, cheap record for you because you want it! When we have some free time, we'll make your record. And it's so niceI won't always be in this position, but right now I make my money doing music. I don't have to rely on these record company people with their little pittances. It's how I get my creative thing happening, but it's not how I make my living. I'm really lucky. I'm a trumpet player who works with Lou Reed, Marianne Faithfull, Stingthat's what I get to do for a living. But anyway, I wrote all this music and we went in and made the record. Kenny laid down all these percussion tracks afterwards, and it was really fun. We laid like two layers of percussion on every song. Basically, he had filled the entire room with percussion. Kenny has no time, every day he has two recordings and two gigsso we'd get him for three or four hours at a time and we'd just go through every song. The first day, we did all wood percussion on every song. Then the second day, we did all metal percussion on every song. Then we did a third day with whistles, vibraphones, wind sounds. Every song has a minimum of two and usually three percussion tracks.
Then those Good and Evil guys just started doing their thing, reconstructing it all. I basically gave them total freedom. The only restriction was that we had this kind of manifesto that it would be equally divided between our natural sounds and the sounds that they created. It could be any kind of perspective50/50, 80/20, 10/90, but overall it had to even out to 50/50 over the course of the entire record. One song could be all natural and the next one completely cut up. Which is pretty much how it is: one song is pretty much just the performance, and one song is all cut up.